The children have returned to school, the days are getting shorter and cooler, and that beautiful sound you can hear this weekend will mark the start of a new season for the Arlington Symphony Orchestra.

Maestro Ruben Vartanyan, who is entering his 13th season with the organization, will present works by Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg and Sergei Rachmaninoff in a program called "Fire and Ice." Pianist Awadagin Pratt, who is internationally acclaimed for intense performances in a career that includes a 1992 win at the Naumberg International Piano Competition and an Avery Fisher Career Grant, will be a special guest performer.

Pratt performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the symphony in 2002. On Saturday, he will take the spotlight on Grieg's Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 16. The composer was an excellent pianist who performed in concert, yet he composed only this concerto (in 1868) among his large group of piano works. Comprising three movements, the concerto includes soft strings, touches of Norwegian folk melodies and an explosive finale that should allow Pratt to showcase his extraordinary skills. Pratt, who has been profiled extensively in the national press, was called one of the "50 Leaders of Tomorrow" by Ebony magazine.

Also on the program is Brahms's Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80. The composer had no collegiate or conservatory training, though he spent two months in the university town of Gottingen, Germany, with Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who attended classes while Brahms followed his muse. Brahms accepted an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau in 1879 but didn't attend the ceremony, expressing his appreciation instead with the Academic Overture. The work incorporates a trio of "student songs," including one generally considered a drinking anthem.

The final element in Saturday's program is Rachmaninoff 's Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27, a "comeback" for the composer after his first symphony, composed in 1895 (he was only 22), was trashed by critics. Luckily, the discouraged composer's friends, who included Leo Tolstoy, encouraged him to keep working. After moving with his family to Dresden, Rachmaninoff completed the Second Symphony, which proved a success at its world premiere in 1909 in Moscow. This lengthy four-movement piece, like the other two works on the program, offers rich melodies drawn from folk music. A segment from the third movement might be familiar; it was purloined by pop singer Eric Carmen in the 1970s for "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again."


The Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall is at 3001 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria. Tickets are $30 to $70, and discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. Full-time students 25 or younger may purchase seats for $10 with a valid student ID. For more information, call 703-528-1817 or visit the Web site,

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Maestro Ruben Vartanyan will present works by Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg and Sergei Rachmaninoff as the Arlington Symphony Orchestra opens its season Saturday. Pianist Awadagin Pratt will be a guest performer.